A Matter Of Opinion: Teaching Kids How To Think For Themselves

06/01/2016 8:14 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
A Bangladeshi student reads as others listen during English lessons at a government run primary school in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 21, 2010. Bangladesh's High Court has ordered schools to stop using corporal punishment on students, a practice UNICEF says is widespread and has reportedly led to the suicide of a 10-year-old boy. (AP Photo/Pavel Rahman)

Being a teacher is a very important job. Teachers are the ones who decide which mistakes they should let their students make and which ones they should help them avoid. The fact is that mistakes teach more than lessons do. Similarly, opinions develop through experiences and young students are very impressionable. Teachers and parents are the two sets of people that children see as their knowledge banks and so any opinion voiced by these key figures holds weight than, say, a newspaper report.

So what should a teacher teach?

The most important skill that every teacher should teach is the difference between a fact and an opinion. That's half the battle won. If the student can do that then she/he takes the first step towards learning how to form an opinion.

The second thing that teachers should focus on is instilling an understanding of how an informed opinion is one that is backed by facts. Students should look for and then verify the facts that an opinion could be based on. If the facts hold up, the opinion is credible. This will help the kids figure out which opinions they should rely on. At this point, teachers should also explain to the students how the legitimacy of an opinion does not depend on the age/sex/religion/position of the person giving that opinion and so credibility does not necessarily stem from there.

As someone wise very once said, "A teacher's job is to teach the students how to learn and not what to learn."

Next, teachers should guide their students on how to entertain two or more opinions at the same time without accepting or rejecting either immediately. It will teach the kids that opinions cannot simply be right or wrong and that everyone looks at things differently. Students should made to understand how opinions are formed over time and are heavily influenced by experiences, so it's not ideal to judge someone on the basis of just their opinion.

Finally, teachers should inculcate ways in which students can express a dissenting opinion without being rude. It is okay to not agree with someone's views and it is also absolutely fine to let them know that you disagree but the manner in which you express that becomes extremely important.

Of course there are multiple ways of teaching the above in class and it would be foolish to prescribe a specific method, but there is little debate on whether the process of forming and expressing opinions should be taught to students or not. Come to think of it, this should be done by parents/mentors as well.

As someone wise very once said, "A teacher's job is to teach the students how to learn and not what to learn."

Written by Apoorv Shah, a 2015-15 Teach For India Alumnus who currently works with the organisation as a Program Manager in Ahmedabad. His interests include school leadership, education policy and mediation.

Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Apply now at


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